Employers, commute managers, and nonprofits urge Caltrain to expand GoPass

As Caltrain considers major changes to its price structure, a diverse set organizations representing employers, transportation demand management service providers, and advocacy organizations supporting transit, the environment, and lower-income workers have sent a letter urging the Caltrain board to update the Go Pass to allow major employers and Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) to provide coverage to contract workers and employees of collections of small service businesses.

This expansion would increase Caltrain’s revenue and ridership, while increasing access to sustainable transportation to lower-income workers in the Peninsula corridor, and helping to take thousands of additional cars off the road, alleviating traffic congestion and pollution.

In the area that Caltrain serves, there are common situations that have been excluded by the program’s current rules.

  • Major employers may not purchase GoPasses for workers at the site who are employees of contract service providers. Many major employers utilize contract vendors for services such as food service, janitorial, and facilities maintenance.
  • A growing number of TMAs provide transportation services such as last-mile shuttles, transit passes, and planning assistance to employees and residents in a focused operating area.  Although TMAs may provide central administration for transportation benefits, they are not currently allowed to administer Go Passes to people at a collection of smaller sites within their operating area.

Changing the rules to overcome these limitations would be a powerful tool to improve equitable access to Caltrain. The food service and janitorial workers on the campuses of major corporations, and the restaurant and retail workers in downtown and mixed-use transit-oriented development areas typically have lower incomes and are priced out of access to Caltrain.

The outcome is a situation where Caltrain gives its most favorable pricing to full-time employees of major corporations, while lower income workers disproportionately drive.  Data from Palo Alto’s TMA shows that workers at larger tech companies in downtown Palo Alto have a drive-alone rate under 30%, while low-income service workers drive at a rate over 80%.

The Palo Alto TMA has demonstrated demand – they created a pilot program offering discount transit passes, and Caltrain has been the most popular service in the pilot by far.

Lower-income contract workers would stand to benefit greatly from improved access to the Caltrain, and they are a significant portion of the commuting workforce. In the North Bayshore area, about 20% of workers are contracted service providers.  Similarly, in downtown Palo Alto, about 20% of workers are in service jobs for smaller employers.

Because the Go Pass would remain centrally administered by a major employer or TMA, Caltrain’s cost structure would remain the same.

One limitation is that historically, Caltrain has relied on employee identification badges as the distribution mechanism for the Go Pass. Contract employees at major corporations and workers at small businesses in TMA areas often do not use an employee identification badge. To address this limitation, Caltrain could migrate the Go Pass to use Clipper.  VTA migrated its Eco Pass to Clipper several years ago, which gives it much more data about program usage.  Security risk would not be any greater than the risk of monthly passholders sharing passes.

Making these changes could bring additional revenue to Caltrain, while increasing equitable access to the service and taking cars off the road.

The board will discuss and give direction about its fares at the board meeting tomorrow, July 6, but will not make initial decisions until August 3, and may make additional decisions after the completion of a fare study later this year.